Neonatal hypothyroidism is decreased thyroid hormone production in a newborn. In very rare cases, no thyroid hormone is produced.
If the baby was born with the condition, it is called congenital hypothyroidism. If it develops soon after birth, it is called hypothyroidism acquired in the newborn period.
Hypothyroidism in the newborn may be caused by:
A thyroid gland that is not fully developed is the most common defect. It occurs in about 1 out of every 3,000 births. Girls are affected twice as often as boys.
Most affected infants have few or no symptoms, because their thyroid hormone level is only slightly low. However, infants with severe hypothyroidism often have a unique appearance, including:
This appearance usually develops as the disease gets worse.
The child may also have:
A physical exam may show:
Blood tests will be done to check thyroid function. Other tests that may be done include:
Early diagnosis is very important. Most of the effects of hypothyroidism are easy to reverse.
Thyroxine is usually given to treat hypothyroidism. Once the child starts taking this medicine, blood tests are regularly done to make sure thyroid levels are in a normal range.
Getting diagnosed early usually leads to a good outcome. Newborns who are diagnosed and treated in the first month or so usually have normal intelligence.
Untreated mild hypothyroidism can lead to severe intellectual disability and growth problems. The nervous system goes through important development during the first few months after birth. A lack of thyroid hormone can cause damage that cannot be reversed.
Call your health care provider if:
If a pregnant women takes radioactive iodine for thyroid cancer, the thyroid gland may be destroyed in the developing fetus. Infants whose mothers have taken such medicines should be observed carefully after birth for signs of hypothyroidism.
Most states require a routine screening test to check all newborns for hypothyroidism. See also: Newborn screening tests
Reviewed By: Ari S. Eckman, MD, Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Trinitas Regional Medical Center, Elizabeth, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.